The X series tablet has long been a mainstay of the ThinkPad lineup, despite its hefty price premium, niche appeal, and decidedly not touch-friendly operating system, but the tried-and-true form factor is getting a bit of a rebirth for the launch of Windows 8 on October 26th. This new machine from Lenovo is called the ThinkPad Twist, and while Edge isn't in the name, it is part of the cost-conscious and small business-friendly lineup. This means that the convertible laptop doesn't have the same bulletproof build quality of the X series tablet — or inflated price.
Lenovo has managed to stuff the Twist's feature set and its namesake hinge into the ultrabook specifications: the convertible tablet has a 12.5-inch 1366 x 768 IPS display, and comes in at 0.79 inches thick and 3.48 pounds. That isn't terribly light or thin for a tablet; this is definitely a laptop first, tablet second. That becomes even more apparent when you look at the equipment Lenovo has given the Twist: it is available with up to an Ivy Bridge Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD (hard drives are also available), optional 3G, and a full set of ports including two USB 3.0, Ethernet, four-in-one SD card slot, mini DisplayPort, and mini-HDMI ports. The system will start at $849 when it ships on October 26th, Windows 8 launch day, but that base specification will have magnetic storage, an i5 processor, and we assume 4GB of RAM.
Think of it as an ultrabook with a touchscreen and a bonus tablet mode
That's all well and good, but how's the hardware? We had an opportunity to briefly test a pre-production unit, and the basics are certainly solid. The keyboard didn't quite have that full ThinkPad feel to it, but the trackpad was suitably large and covered in glass instead of the poor plastic pads of old — though it was a bit loosely seated. What concerned us more was the all-important swiveling hinge, which was awkward to use. The screen twists far too easily; so much so that when opening or closing the lid from the sides it could pop out of place. Lenovo has also placed a minuscule screen lock button on the edge of the display for use when in tablet mode, but it isn't particularly well-situated. We assume that some if not most of these complaints will be hammered out before final units are shipped out, so we'll have to reserve our judgement for now.
Lenovo is highlighting four different methods of taking advantage of the twisting display: there's a standard laptop and tablet mode, of course, as well as a "tent" mode in which you place the laptop with its hinge up in the air and the screen facing out. This is supposed to help support the display for touch input. Lastly, there's a stand mode which helps reduce the computer's footprint if you don't need access to the keyboard (e.g. if you're on a plane watching a movie). There are going to be plenty of options for convertible laptops come October 26th, but most of what we've seen so far has abandoned the twisting display form factor. We'll have to wait and see which is the better choice once we spend some time with production models.
Sean Hollister contributed to this report.